Bird flu is bad news for game farmers and shooters who face a dire season ahead. There were more than 100 recorded cases of avian influenza in the UK during the winter of 2021/2022. As reported in Fieldsports News, outbreaks of avian flu in the UK and France have pushed up the price of gamebirds and are jeopardising shoots.
Although the import of chicks and eggs from much of France is not possible until July, the impact on shoots varies tremendously, says BASC’s head of game and gundogs Glynn Evans. “Some shoots have had no stock. I’m actually one of those people in that situation. We won’t be shooting this year. Other shoots are able to carry on with their plans in one shape or another.”
In France, the winter outbreak of avian influenza in is in the area where most of the UK’s game birds are bred. The game farms of the Vendee and Loire regions export large numbers of eggs and chicks to the UK. Around half of the low ground birds released each year are imported, mostly as eggs from France. Until July 2022, no eggs or chicks can leave these disease control zones without a licence.
In 2019, the last ‘normal’ year of sales pre-Covid, the UK imported about 20 million pheasants and up to 10 million partridges from France, the majority as eggs for hatching in the UK.
Glynn says everyone needs to remain vigilant. He says: “I think this is one thing that all shoots, everybody who keeps poultry, and anybody keeps game birds really needs to do. And that’s biosecurity. It’s absolutely key.”
Glynn says that shoots are well-practised in comprehensive safety measures. He says: “For the prevention of diseases things like footbaths, checks on who comes into the shoot and, not having people moving to shoots from somewhere poultry is infected is essential.”
The avian influenza prevention zone document has requirements that have to be complied with. Glynn says it also has good advice.
Glynn says there is a fall in the number of cases of bird flu in the UK. He says: “As we’d expect with the weather warming up viruses don’t do very well in hot weather and we’re seeing the continued decline in confirmed cases.”
He warns no-one should be complacent. Glynn says: “There are still some cases out there and the avian influenza prevention zone remains in place for Great Britain, but it’s been lifted in Northern Ireland.”
Despite the bird flu outbreaks, Glynn is optimistic about the future. He says: “Shooting, as with much of the countryside, is really resilient. So, when we look at things like Covid and a few years to foot & mouth we’ve actually come out the other end of it. I don’t see that this will be any different, but I think a number of shoots will be looking at their supply chains and how to secure them for the future.”
BASC and the Game Farmers Association advise anyone buying in gamebirds for rearing and releasing to plan ahead by holding early discussions with game farms and suppliers. For many game bird shoots the shortage of birds is leading to a steep rise in prices. For some it is just too late as the two largest game farms in France have both told their suppliers that nothing will reach the UK until the end of next month at the earliest.
Scientists are joining forces to battle bird flu after the government handed over research cash. The government has given £1.5 million to a consortium of eight scientific organisations, including the Royal Veterinary College.